The FDA is granting what’s called accelerated approval for a new drug that shows promise in clinical trials to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lauren Livingston, spokeswoman for the Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, calls the announcement “exciting” and says the drug Lecanemab isn’t a cure, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

“During the clinical trial, it slowed the cognitive decline of those in the trial by nearly 30% over 18 months, so that’s a huge improvement,” Livingston says. “It gives people more time with their families, more time to drive and take care of their finances and participate in the things they love, so it’s great news.”

There are several downsides, however. In some patients, the drug caused serious side effects. Plus, it will be difficult to obtain, and then there’s the cost. “It is a very expensive treatment. I believe I saw it is close to $30,000 for one year of treatments from the drugmaker,” Livingston says. “That is why it is so important for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to change their decision that they made almost a year ago to cover this drug.”

Under current regulations, the drug wouldn’t be covered unless the patient is taking part in a clinical trial, and there are no such trials underway in Iowa. “You’d have to pay for it out of pocket to go to a healthcare system that offers it,” Livingston says. “If you want to take the drug and have it be covered under Medicare at this time, you would have to travel somewhere that has a clinical trial. So either way, it’s either hard to access because of location and time or hard to access because of finances.”

Patients in the trial had moderate cognitive impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s so it’s still unclear what impact it might have on those with more advanced stages of the disease. More than 66-thousand Iowans are living with Alzheimer’s.